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August 01, 2008

The Business Plan of Happiness

Dreamstime_3767370_3 I've never been one for timing. 

I graduated from college in the tech boom of the late '90s and immediately started to work my tail off in the San Francisco Bay Area...for peanuts as a federal government employee.  I watched my fellow sorority sisters and classmates secure jobs at Cisco and Intel and startups.  As they became worth millions "on paper" and rose to Internet stardom and power, I plugged away writing press advisories and attending town hall meetings and helping constiuents, with a second job in the evenings at a store.  I was happy and fulfilled...and poor.

Fast forward 10 years and to Washington, DC.  Now I'm working in the right town for my field of public affairs, but after establishing myself and marrying, sperm met egg, baby heartily cried in delivery room and I voluntarily left it all behind to sing "Wheels on the Bus" and serve as the 9-to-5 caregiver of my children.  I now see the Capitol dome from the windows of my minivan as my kids and I head to activities and exhibits.   Again I am happy and fulfilled.  Again, I do not make much money.

But poor is a relative term.  As a young single woman, I never went to bed hungry, always had a roof over my head, cute discount clothes on my bod and in an emergency I could call on my parents to lend me a hand.  I never had to degrade myself or others in order to survive.  Sure, I wasn't able to purchase a chic loft or travel to luxurious locations, but I was a young woman of independent means, in control of her own fate and in possession of an education. To 99.9% of the world, I was wealthy beyond imagination.

Today I am married to a man who is more than willing to work very hard to bring in the money that our family needs to survive and prosper.  Although he is the sole salary earner in our family, he treats me at all times as his complete equal.  He'll walk in the door after a tough 12 hour day at the office, see the kids running amuck and the circles beneath my eyes and he'll bring me a beer.  He'll cook the dinner.  He'll help with the housework.  The word patriarchal never crosses my mind when I think of the balance of power in our seemingly traditional stay-at-home-mom-work-outside-the-home-dad family set up.  If anything, I am a queen.

I may lament sometimes that I "left it all behind" in getting off the career train to spend time with my kids when they are young (notice I did not say "raise my kids," for working mothers are raising their kids with just as much love and care as I am as a SAHM.) But that lament is hogwash.  I had the privilege and prosperity to make the choice to stay at home, basing that choice on my personal preference and beliefs.  Even though our family has less money because of that choice, the privilege of that option is not available to most women in the world.  It is a privilege available only to so few women in the world, the freedom to make that choice.  This is a fact I find it important to remember as I feel these economic times and rising prices kicking our family's arse.

I am not a success star.  I am not a socialite.  I am not a saint.  Neither the investment banks nor the Peace Corps appealed to me or were breaking down my door.  My timing has always been off and my account balance has always had every penny spoken for.  But I am lucky.  I am blessed.  My personal portfolio has been based on happiness and fulfillment, and the circumstances of my life have allowed me to never stray from that business plan.  My timing has been off, but my road has been easy. 

Original DC Metro Moms Blog Post.  Jessica counts her blessings daily as A Parent in Silver Spring

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